Comic book movies are becoming popular in Ethiopia. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the Fast and the Furious with spaceships and fancier guns. As far as commerce is concerned, this second instalment will probably have mainstream audiences eating out of its hand. As far as cinema is concerned, Christian Tesfaye says, keep trying. Six out of Ten Stars
We have had it up to the neck with comic book movies. By “we”, I mean adults. Obviously, as box office results concur, younger audiences could not get enough. Here in Ethiopia, the younger audience includes adolescents.
I remember watching The Avengers: Age of Ultron at Edna Mall’s multiplexes. I did not get there late, but just as the last remaining four of five seats were about to be taken. The theatre was packed to the rim, with pimply, bald-faced teenagers. I felt like I was back in high-school.
For some reason, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (referred to as Vol. 2 henceforth) did not open to the same type of enthusiasm in the same multiplex. I saw the movie on a Saturday, at 6:45 pm. The theatre was not deserted. There were people, but nowhere as many as there should have been on the weekend at dusk.
Vol. 2 is the fifteenth installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It means the characters of this movie are a part of the same universe in which the Avengers also exist. And if it were not for the fact that a different studio owns the X-Men movie rights (they belong to 20th Century Fox, thank god), Mutants would also show up.
In Vol. 1, we saw as Peter Quill (Star-Lord), Gamora, Drax, Groot and Rocket came together to call themselves the guardians of the galaxy. At the end of that movie, Quill finds out that even though his mother is human, his father may be something else.
Fast forward to Vol. 2, and the guardians find themselves running away from a race of beings called the Sovereign when Ego rescues them. Ego is not a man; he is not an alien either. In fact, he is a god, with “a small G”. He has some very lavish powers, a posh spaceship and his own planet. (How does one get their own planet? Make a purchase? Pee on it first?)
He is also…surprise, surprise, Quill’s father. With Drax and Gamora, Quill travels to Ego’s planet to get to know his father better, while Rocket and Groot remain on another planet guarding Gamora’s evil sister and fixing their crashed spaceship. But events get complicated when Yondu, Quill’s adoptive father, and the Sovereign get involved. Up until the third act, it is not clear who the super villain is, but anyone who pays close attention to the characters’ names will be able to tell.
It is incredible how much comic book movies have become popular, even in Ethiopia. Akin to the other films inside the MCU, Stan Lee, creator of many of Marvel’s most famous superheroes, gets a cameo. When he showed up in Vol. 2 at the middle of the movie, there was a mild ovation, even some audiences murmuring “Stan Lee, Stan Lee”. Most also stayed long after the film finished, and sat through the closing credits, anticipating after-credits scenes like in the other Marvel movies.
But the franchise is different to other films in the MCU. It is closer in form to space operas than superhero movies. There are no characters in spandex. The protagonists do not try to conceal their identities. Guardians of the Galaxy, especially bearing in mind the diverse extraterrestrial characters, is the Fast and the Furious with spaceships and fancier guns.
Vol. 2, like its predecessors, could not possibly exist if not for the likes of Star Trek and Star Wars. There is a fetishism of spaceships. The humour is safe, very conformist, though some scatological jokes make it in there.
Chris Pratt plays Quill. The actor has always struck me as too handsome – with too perfect a bone structure and smooth face – to play the everyday man. But then again, Quill, Star-Lord, is not an ordinary person. Unfortunately, he is also not a fascinating character, either. The beautiful Zoe Saldana plays Gamora in green makeup and 21st-century feminist girl power. Almost humourless, she usually finds herself serving as the adult in the room.
Former wrestler Dave Bautista portrays the muscle-bound, but very playful Drax. He delivers some of the movie’s funniest lines, but his frequent guffaws are very annoying. Even more irritating is Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper – the genetically designed raccoon that is, successfully written to be, unlikable.
Groot, who is a baby in Vol. 2, after almost dying in Vol. 1, is very cute, and according to the credits, is played by Vin Diesel, who does a great job saying “I am Groot” three or four times throughout the entire movie.
Rounding up the cast are Kurt Russell as Ego and Sylvester Stallone as leader of the Ravagers, both fantastic in parts that do not require much effort. Michael Rooker, as Yondu, on the other hand, succeeds in being the most touching and interesting of the characters.
Vol. 2 is one of those movies that are hard to review. There is no single moment of cinema in there, but some scenes, like the one in which Yondu takes revenge using an arrow he controls by whistling, are very exciting. It is an expensive movie, and James Gunn, the director, spares no cost when it comes to costumes and set and art decoration.
The production design is engrossing, and the richness of colour reminds one of the best of Technicolour adventures, like The Wizard of Oz or The Thief of Bagdad. But there is so much cliché and cheap sentimentality in the movie. Some scenes, like Quill and Ego playing catch, are simply unbearable. As far as commerce is concerned, Vol. 2 is a knockout; it will probably have mainstream audiences eating out of its hand. As far as cinema is concerned, I say, keep trying.
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